Rolls-Royce to Sell SUV

Teaser of Rolls Royce's forthcoming SUV

Confirming the once-unthinkable, Rolls announces it will join Bentley, Maserati and Jaguar in fielding an SUV.

Add Rolls-Royce to the growing list of super-premium carmakers bringing an SUV to their celestial lineups.

Rolls revealed the plans in an austere press release this week that, while never actually invoking the plebian "SUV," described "a car that offers the luxury of a Rolls-Royce in a vehicle that can cross any terrain," plus the fact that Rolls "conveyed adventurers like Lawrence of Arabia across the vastness of unexplored deserts … with absolute reliability and comfort."

Ultra-luxury carmakers have found SUVs irresistible, due both to demand — Rolls said "many discerning customers have urged us to develop this new car" — and the fact that drivers who could afford a Rolls- or Bentley-branded SUV are forced instead to "trade down" to one manufactured by Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, Lexus, Audi or Cadillac.

Luxury automakers are bullish on SUVs because they broaden market share — the Cayenne helped double Porsche's female buyers after it was introduced in 2004 — and carry fat profit margins.

Luxury SUV sales continue to surge. Sales in January were up more than 30 percent over January 2014, according, and show no signs of slowing, especially with the U.S. economy recovered and gas prices at historic lows.

Global SUV demand is growing three times as fast as the rest of the automobile market, Audi marketing executive Luca de Meo said while unveiling two new Audi SUVs at the Detroit auto show in January. Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac's marketing chief, told The Hollywood Reporter that the factory that manufacturers Cadillac's redesigned Escalade SUV can't keep up with demand. Meanwhile, there is a seven-month wait for Porsche's Macan crossover SUV, which was introduced in May.

Rolls didn't provide pricing or when its SUV will be introduced, but given the prices of its other models, expect something north of $300,000.

Bentley's Bentayga SUV will be introduced later this year and goes on sale in 2016, priced at an estimated $220,000.